You Do This Well, But You Could Improve That…

The Problem

Tragic mask on the façade of the Royal Dramati...
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Providing feedback that praises, and then offers suggestions for improvement.

I’ve always wondered why such a method left a bad taste in my mouth, but I came across one possible explanation in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.  The peak-end rule proposes that:

…we judge our past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Other information is not lost, but it is not used. This includes net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted.

A description of one experiment demonstrating this rule is contained in Determinants of the Remembered Utility of Aversive Sounds (Schreiber/Kahneman)

…participants had two experiences of immersing one hand in painfully cold water.

The short trial lasted 60 s, with water temperature at 14 °C.
The long trial lasted 90 s; the temperature was 14 °C for
the first 60 s, then rose gradually to 15 °C over the next
30 s–still unpleasant, but a distinct improvement for most

When they were later given a choice of which
trial to repeat, a significant majority of participants chose to
repeat the long trial. This preference violates logic, because
adding pain to an aversive episode cannot make it better

A Possible Improvement on the Constructive Feedback Technique

Toastmasters uses a sandwich technique [good-bad-good], but the challenge is that the Serial position effect might cause the criticism necessary for improvement to be lost.  However, this modified sandwich technique might provide the benefits of offering constructive criticism while still producing a more positive result at the end:

  1. Sandwich Layer: Bread
    Evaluation Element: Praise – strengths exhibited by the speaker
  2. Sandwich Layer: Condiments
    Evaluation Element: Areas for improvement – where can the speaker improve
  3. Sandwich Layer: Meat, cheese, vegetables
    Evaluation Element: Specific suggestions – how can the speaker improve
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